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U.S. Department of the Interior Inspector General Confirms Misuse of Government Funds in Klamath Basin Controversy

The U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued an audit report assessing whether the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) had appropriate legal authority to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Klamath Water and Power Agency (KWAPA) to administer a Water User Mitigation Program for the Klamath Project. The report also assessed whether certain program expenditures were permissible under the law. The OIG Report concluded that that the Bureau lacked legal authority to enter in the agreement; thus, because the agreement was improper, KWAPA’s expenditures under the program—some $32.2 million spent over a span of seven years—were found to constitute a waste of funds. OIG concluded that, instead of benefiting fish and wildlife as Congress intended, the Water User Mitigation Program instead primarily benefited irrigation contractors, Klamath Project patrons who were paid either to switch from surface water to groundwater or to temporarily cease irrigation activities.

While the Bureau has largely rejected the OIG Report’s conclusions, the OIG Report confirms allegations that the agency mishandled millions of dollars, improperly utilizing funds to make payments to irrigators instead of conducting drought planning activities and supporting fish and wildlife protection efforts. This now adds yet another complicating factor to several ongoing controversies in the Klamath Basin, including ongoing recall efforts against several board members of the Klamath Irrigation District, continued controversy over Klamath River dam removal efforts, and Oregon’s long-running water rights adjudication and tribal water rights settlement efforts.

(Daniel Timmons)